PSYA02 CHAPTER 9 – LANGUAGE & THOUGHT
- Cognition is composed of distinct abilities
- Impairment of cognitive abilities (e.g. acquiring and using language, forming concepts and
categories, making decisions, solving problems, and reasoning) can result in major and lasting
disruptions to our lives
LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION: FROM RULES TO MEANING:
- Language system for communicating with others using signals that are combined according
to rules of grammar and convey meaning
- Grammar set of rules that specify how the units of language can be combined to produce
- Language allows individuals to exchange info about the world, coordinate group action, and
form strong social bonds
- 1) most humans can express a wider range of ideas and concepts than are found in the
communications of other species, and humans can generate an essentially infinite number of
novel sentences (animals do not have anything like this capacity)
- 2) humans use words to refer to intangible things, such as unicorn or democracy
- 3) we use language to name, categorize and describe things to ourselves when we think, which
influences how knowledge is organized in our brains
THE COMPLEX STRUCTURE OF HUMAN LANGUAGE:
- All languages share a basic structure involving a set of sounds and rules for combining those
sounds to produce meanings
- Phonemes smallest units of sound that are recognizable as speech rather than as random
- E.g. B and P are classified as separate phenomes in English b/c they differ in the way they are
produced by the human speaker
- Phonological rules indicate how phonemes can be combined to produce speech sounds
- Every language has phonological rules
- Phonemes are combined to make morphemes the smallest meaningful units of language
- Morphemes are like words/the word itself
- Phonemes are the sounds each letter of that word makes so that when you put the phonemes
together you get the morphemes
- All languages have grammar rules that generally fall into two categories: rules of morphology
and rules of syntax
- Morphological rules indicate how morphemes can be combined to form words
- Content morphemes refer to things and events (e.g cat, dog, and, but)
- Function morphemes serve grammatical functions such as tying sentences together (e.g. and,
but) or indicates time (e.g. when)
- Content and function morphemes can be combined and recombined to form an infinite number
of new sentences which are governed by syntax - Syntactical rules indicate how words can be combined to form phrases and sentences
- E.g. a simple syntactical rule is that every sentence must contain one or more nouns, which may
be combined with adjectives or articles to create noun phrases
MEANING: DEEP STRUCTURE vs. SURFACE STRUCTURE:
- Deep structure refers to the meaning of a sentence
- Surface structure refers to how a sentence is worded
- E.g the sentences “the dog chased the cat” and “the cat was chased by the dog” have the same
deep structure (mean the same thing) even though on the surface their structures are different
- To generate a sentence you begin with a deep structure and create a surface structure to
convey the meaning
- 1) children learn language at an astonishingly rapid rate
- 2) children make few errors while learning to speak and the errors they do make usually result
from applying grammatical rules they’ve learned
- 3) children passive mastery of language develops faster than their active mastery
DISTINGUISH SPEECH SOUNDS:
- At birth, infants can distinguish among all of the contrasting sounds that occur in all human
- Within the first 6 months of life, they lose this ability and can only distinguish among the
contrasting sounds in the language they hear being spoken around them
- at about 10-12 months of age, babies begin to utter their first words
- by 18 months they can say about 50 words and can understand several times more than that
- fast mapping children map a word onto an underlying concept after only a single exposure
- this enables children to learn at this rapid pace
- telegraphic speech devoid of function morphemes and consist mostly of content words e.g.
“throw ball”/”more milk”
- despite the absence of function words such as prepositions/articles these two-word sentences
tend to be grammatical
EMERGENCE OF GRAMMATICAL RULES:
- very young children memorize the particular sounds that express what they want to
- as children acquire the grammatical rules of their language, they tend to overgeneralize
- e.g. if a child overgeneralizes the rule that past tense is indicated by –ed, then run becomes
runned/ranned instead of ran
- children acquire grammatical rules by listening to the speech around them and using the rules to
create verbal forms they’ve never heard
LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT AND COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT: - language development typically unfolds as a sequence of steps in which one milestone is
achieved before moving on to the next
- language acquisition in preschool aged adopted children showed the same orderly progression
of milestones that characterizes infants
- their vocab just like that of infants, was initially dominated by nouns and they produced few
- some of the key milestones of language development depend on experience with English
- observed shifts in early language development reflect specific characteristics of language
learning rather than general limitation of cognitive development
THEORIES OF LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT:
- what underlies the process of language development?
- according to B.F Skinner’s behaviorist explanation of language learning, we learn to talk in the
same way we learn any other skill: through reinforcement, shaping, extinction and the other
basic principles of operant conditioning
- as infants mature, they begin to vocalize
- those vocalizations that are not reinforced gradually diminised (e.g gaga) and those that are
reinforced remain in the developing child’s repertoire (e.g dada)
- maturing children also imitate the speech patternts they hear
- parents/other adults shape those speech patterns by reinforcing those that are grammatical and
ignoring or punishing those that are ungrammatical
- according to Chomsky, language-learning capacities are built into the brain, which is specialized
to rapidly acquire language through simple exposure to speech
- Chomsky argued that humans have a particular ability for language that is separate from general
- Nativist theory language development is best explained as an innate biological capacity
- According to Chomsky, human brain is equipped with language acquisition device (LAD) a
collecgtion of processes that facilitate language learning
- Language processes naturally emerge as the infant matures, provided the infant receives
adequate input to maintain the acquisition proicess
- Genetic dysphasia syndrome characterized by an inability to learn the grammatical structure
of language despite having otherwise normal intelligence (people w/ normal/nearly normal
intelligence can find certain aspects of human language impossible to elarn)
- studies of people with genetic dysphasia suggest that normal children learn the grammatical
rules of human language with ease in part b/c they are “wired” to do so (predicted by nativist
- nativist theory also explains why deaf babies babble speech sounds they have never heard and
why the pattern of language development is similar in children throughout the world
- Nativist theories are often criticized because they do not explain how language develops; they
merely explain why - The interactionist approach is that although infants are born with an innate ability to acquire
language, social interactions play a crucial role in language.
- Interactionists point out that parents tailor their verbal interactions with children in ways that
simplify the language acquisition process: They speak slowly, enunciate clearly and use simpler
sentences than they do when speaking with adults
LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT AND THE BRAIN
- As the brain matures, specialization of specific neurological structures takes place, and this
allows language to develop
- language processing gradually becomes more and more concentrated in two areas, Broca’s area
and Wernicke’s area, sometimes referred to as the language centers of the brain.
- Aphasia defined as difficulty in producing or comprehending language.
- Broca’s area is located in the left frontal cortex; it is involved in the production of the sequential
patterns in vocal and sign languages
- Patients with this damage, resulting in Broca’s aphasia, understand language relatively well,
although they have increasing comprehension difficulty as grammatical structures get more
- Typically, they speak in short, staccato phrases that consist mostly of content morphemes
(e.g., cat, dog). Function morphemes (e.g., and, but) are usually missing and grammatical
structure is impaired
- E.g. A person with the condition might say something like “Ah, Monday, uh, Casey park. Two, uh,
friends, and, uh, 30 minutes.”
- Wernicke’s area, located in the left temporal cortex, is involved in language comprehension
(whether spoken or signed).
- Carl Wernicke first described the area that bears his name after observing speech difficulty in
patients who had sustained damage to the left posterior temporal cortex
- Patients with Wernicke’s aphasia differ from those with Broca’s aphasia in two ways: They can
produce grammatical speech, but it tends to be meaningless, and they have considerable
difficulty comprehending language.
- In normal language processing, Wernicke’s area is highly active when we make judgments
about word meaning, and damage to this area impairs comprehension of spoken and signed
language, although the ability to identify nonlanguage sounds is unimpaired.
- Four kinds of evidence indicate that the right cerebral hemisphere also contributes to language
processing—especially to language comprehension 1) when words are presented to the right
hemisphere of healthy participants using divided visual field techniques (see Chapter 3), the
right hemisphere shows some capacity for processing meaning.
- 2) patients with damage to the right hemisphere sometimes have subtle problems with
- 3) a number of neuroimaging studies have revealed evidence of right-hemisphere activation
during language tasks.
- 4) and most directly related to language development, some children who have had their entire
left hemspheres removed during adolescence as a treatment for epilepsy can recover many of
their language abilities.
CAN OTHER SPECIES LEARN HUMAN LANGUAGE
- The human vocal tract and the extremely nimble human hand are better suited to human
language than are the throats and paws of other species. - Early attempts to teach apes to speak failed dismally because their vocal tracts cannot
accommodate the sounds used in human languages
- limitations apes exhibit when learning, comprehending, and using human language.
- 1) the size of the vocabularies they acquire. As mentioned, Washoe’s and Kanzi’s vocabularies
number in the hundreds, but an average 4-year-old human child has a vocabulary of
approximately 10,000 words.
- 2)the type of words they can master, primarily names for concrete objects and simple actions.
Apes (and several other species) have the ability to map arbitrary sounds or symbols onto
objects and actions, but learning, say, the meaning of the word economicswould be difficult for
Washoe or Kanzi.
- In other words, apes can learn signs for concepts they understand, but their conceptual
repertoire is smaller and simpler than that of humans.
- 3) most important limitation is the complexity of grammar that apes can use and comprehend.
- Apes can string signs together, but their constructions rarely exceed three or four words, and
when they do, they are rarely grammatical.
LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT: HOW ARE THEY RELATED
- The linguistic relativity hypothesis maintains that language shapes the nature of though
- his idea was championed by Benjamin Whorf
- he most frequently cited example of linguistic relativity comes from the Inuit in Canada.
- Their language has many different terms for frozen white flakes of precipitation, for which we
use the word snow.
- Whorf believed that because they have so many terms for snow, the Inuit perceive and think
about snow differently than do English speakers.
- Bear in mind, though, that either thought or language ability can be severely impaired while the
capacity for the other is spared,
- Human language is characterized by a complex organization–from phonemes to morphemes to
phrases and finally to sentences.
- Each of these levels of human language is constructed and understood according to grammatical
rules that are acquired early in development, even without being taught explicitly. Instead,
children appear to be biologically predisposed to process language in ways that allow them to
extract these grammatical rules from the language they hear.
- Our abilities to produce and comprehend language depend on distinct regions of the brain, with
Broca’s area critical for language production and Wernicke’s area critical for comprehension.
- Nonhuman primates can learn new vocabulary and construct simple sentences, but there are
significant limitations on the size of their vocabularies and the grammatical complexity they can
- Recent studies on color processing and time judgments point to an influence of language on
thought. However, it is also clear that language and thought are to some extent separate.
CONCEPTS AND CATEGORIES: HOW WE THINK
- we need to look at factors in addition to language in order to understand concepts - Concept refers to a mental representation that groups or categorizes shared features of
related objects, events, or other stimuli.
- A concept is an abstract representation, description, or definition that serves to designate a
class or category of things. T
- he brain organizes our concepts about the world, classifying them into categories based on
- Our category for “dog” may be something like “small, four-footed animal with fur that wags its
tail and barks.”
- We form these categories in large part by noticing similarities among objects and events that we
experience in everyday life.
- For example, your concept of a chair might include such features as sturdiness, relative flatness,
an object that you can sit on.
- That set of attributes defines a category of objects in the world—desk chairs, recliner chairs, flat
rocks, bar stools, and so on—that can all be described in that way.
- Concepts are fundamental to our ability to think and make sense of the world.
PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORIES OF CONCEPTS AND CATEGORIES:
- Early psychological theories described concepts as rules that specify the necessary and sufficient
conditions for membership in a particular category.
- A necessary condition is something that must be true of the object in order for it to belong to
- For example, suppose you were trying to determine whether an unfamiliar animal was a dog. It
is necessary that the creature be a mammal; otherwise it doesn’t belong to the category “dog”
because all dogs are mammals.
- A sufficient condition is something that, if it is true of the object, proves that it belongs to the
- Three theories seek to explain how people perform these acts of categorization: family
resemblance theory, prototype theory, exemplar theory
FAMILY RESEMBLANCE THEORY
- family resemblance that is,features that appear to be characteristic of category members but
may not be possessed by every member
- For example, you and your brother may have your mother’s eyes, although you and your sister
may have your father’s high cheekbones.
- There is a strong family resemblance between you, your parents, and your siblings despite the
fact that there is no necessarily defining feature that you all have in common.
- Prototype which is the “best” or “most typical member” of the category
- . A prototype possesses most (or all) of the most characteristic features of the category.
- For North Americans, the prototype of the “bird” category would be something like a wren: a
small animal with feathers and wings that flies through the air, lays eggs, and migrates
- If you lived in Antarctica, your prototype of a bird might be a penguin: a small animal that has
flippers, swims, and lays eggs. - According to prototype theory, if your prototypical bird is a robin, then a canary would be
considered a better example of a bird than would an ostrich because a canary has more features
in common with a robin than an ostrich does.
- exemplar theory holds that we make category judgments by comparing a new instance with
stored memories for other instances of the category
- Exemplar theory does a better job than prototype theory in accounting for certain aspects of
categorization, especially in that we recall not only what a prototypical dog looks like but also
what specific dogs look like.
CONCEPTS, CATEGORIES AND THE BRAIN
- The left hemisphere is primarily involved in forming prototypes and the right hemisphere is
mainly active in recognizing exemplars.
- we use both prototypes and exemplars when forming concepts and categories.
- The visual cortex is involved in forming prototypes, whereas the prefrontal cortex and basal
ganglia are involved in learning exemplars
- This evidence suggests that exemplar-based learning involves analysis and decision making
(prefrontal cortex), whereas prototype formation is a more holistic process involving image
processing (visual cortex).
- category-specific deficit an inability to recognize objects that belong to a particular categor